Home ShopTalk Changing Lives, One App & One Habit At a Time

Changing Lives, One App & One Habit At a Time

Can a mobile App change your outlook on life, helping you to lay unproductive, self-destructive habits to rest and take aim at a happier, healthier tomorrow?

Say hello to two “Personas” who are facing the daily stresses and strains of modern life in 2013. Let’s call them Hal and Haley (circa ‘2001’). A couple of industrious, intelligent Seattleites, they want to keep the promises they have made to themselves and to their families.

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For their New Year’s resolutions, each has made it a goal to set aside more quality time at home and more money for retirement, to stick to a diet that makes-up for their “digital desk jobs” and to get outside and breathe the fresh air more often. Haley wants to get rid of a habit she’s intent on keeping off of Facebook and out of the glare of social media. For Hal, the bad habit is in public view daily and he can use all the peer group encouragement he can get.  He desperately needs to quit smoking.

How empowering would it be if there was a software-based, behavior modification tool that could help these all too real “personas” to reach their goals — improve their health, breathe more deeply, and even stop smoking, all with fingertip controls?

An award-winning, user-proven, habit-based solution for achieving self-improvement, such a family of Apps is being brought to the Mobile applications market on iOS and Android by a small, dedicated Redmond, WA.-based company with a big idea. The mission: Put the power of behavioral change in a device as convenient to you as your Smartphone. Design the program to include the right kind of incentives, user-motivation, coaching and communication to be successful, and allow for both optional social media encouragement, or complete confidentiality. 

2MorrowInc.com has already won the Surgeon General’s Healthy Apps Challenge with its free Healthy Habits App and has collaborated with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and UW on a groundbreaking study for Smoking Cessation, the first of its kind to be offered on a mobile phone application. The company is also working with a Blue Cross insurance provider, wellness programs like  Florida Hospital’s Healthy 10o Program, and disease-specific programs like Aplastic Anemia & MDS.

What’s more, the nucleus of the company is an actual husband and wife team: Brandon Masterson, CEO, and Jo Masterson, COO, MBA (and a former RN.) The happily married  couple are proving how their strong relationship and communication skills can help others to set and keep their personal vows and change their behavioral habits “in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.”

Can a small company help save the world from destructive habits like smoking, obesity, credit card abuse and more, by putting the power of change in our pockets?

Seattle24x7 got the prognosis from the two Mastersons, our first ShopTalk interview with C-Level spouses, to fill you in on their life-changing advice.

Seattle24x7:  We’re feeling very positively-motivated about this interview — as if we can tap into our very best reporting habits.  So let’s start with the test you are conducting with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the UW.  What is it that you are evaluating?

Brandon: In the study, the Fred Hutch is comparing a government’s smoking cessation program with a new approach to see which works better. 2Morrow is excited to be part of this project because this type of quality research is needed in the mobile space and should make all behavior change apps better.   

Jo: We can’t go into any details about the App because it’s a controlled, blind panel study which is conducted without letting people know which App they’re getting ahead of time. The overall goal is to compare the approaches and see how mobile performs in terms of delivering the program. This App will be compared to another App as well as against a Web version and an in-person version..

Seattle24x7: Will the final Smoking Cessation App be made available to the public?  

Jo:  Yes. The initial pre-release version is private in order to preserve the integrity of the research, so it will not be available to the public until after the research phase is completed.  Once the study is concluded they do have plans to release it to the public.

Seattle24x7: Are patients still being recruited  for this study group? 

Jo: Yes, they’re still looking for people who are smokers and who are planning to quit in the next 30 days. They can apply online to be part of the study. They would receive one of the two different programs or Apps to use. The test is distinguished as the first one of its kind that is studying the effectiveness of delivering a smoking cessation program over a mobile device. Sign up at SmartQuit.org or smartquit@fhcrc.org.

Seattle24x7: Your tag line is “Behavior Change Apps.” We noticed you even have a psychiatrist on your board of advisors. How did you get started on this journey?

Brandon: I’m a “list” type person and I’ve preferred to track my own health habits. So initially, I wanted to develop a way to make my life easier tracking that. kind of data. The power of mobile devices presented itself  because the devices and the platforms are with you all the time. We instantly saw the potential and started developing business ideas.

We first began with a few trial runs of our early apps, like Habit MakerHabit Breaker. We tested those in the market and gathered feedback.  In the next iteration, we automated the logging process and added a more user-driven orientation where users  could define their own motivations This setup process proved far more powerful because the motivation grew out of each user’s individual situation.  It’s all part of a very feature-rich program. We can support heavy duty statistics. We present milestone badges. We use gamification, levels, titles, and points. The users feel cheered on during the entire process.

Jo: Today there quite a number of software resources that can help you track data, but when you’re trying to track behaviors, and tie it to data, well, we didn’t see anyone doing that really well.   We quickly found ourselves down at Stanford talking to BJ Foggs,  who is a behavioral research leader in this area focusing on habits and behavior change.

Brandon: His focus is in on Persuasive Technology.

Seattle24x7: That’s a very intriguing term. One does not typically associate persuasion with  technology.

Jo: We really love what he’s doing. There’s a lot of new research and several new books out on the subject, including “The Power of Habits” which has been on the best seller list for some time. When you really want to create behavior change in an individual or in a community you have to address the underlying habits. Willpower can get us all to a short term goal, but when willpower runs out we fall back on our habits. So if you haven’t changed the underlying habits, you will have a hard time creating long term change.

Seattle24x7:  Your Apps, titled Healthy Habits , My Pocket Coach and Resolutions 2013, among others, use a variety of persuasive components.

Jo:  What we’ve tried to do with the research is take the best practices for behavior change and incorporate them into the App. One of the best practices centers around logging, so we created a system for logging where you can easily track your behaviors. We also created a trigger and reminder system, which can be customized.

Brandon: We have reminders built into the system. We started originally with a push model and now we use the local reminders through notifications on the App. We are are able to effectively remind users of the things they want to do.

Jo: One of the cool parts is that we understand the importance of tying motivations to what you think is important. So, for example, you can add a picture of your kids inside the app, or spell out in words why it’s important for you to work out. If you get off track, the App will use the reminder, picture, or words to show you why you wanted to do this in the first place.

Brandon: We also remind you at key milestones and at each level. We use people’s own motivations in order to get them to accomplish their own goals.

Jo: All of the data is viewable in chart form and exportable. For non-quantitative data we have a journal feature. The Gratitude Journal, which we get feedback on as one of the most life changing, encourages you to list the top three things you’re grateful for each day. In fact, one of our challenges is improving the user experience and making the Apps and the various tools even easier to navigate without being overwhelming. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  That’s the balance we have to find.

Seattle24x7:  One of your incentives is a points-based system.  Have you worked with companies or health care systems where those points can translate into dollars from an incentive standpoint? 

Jo:  Yes. Through an API we can integrate with existing incentives program.  It’s a matter of cooperating with the company and determining what they want the points to translate into. We can send our data to their system and it combines with their information.

Brandon: For instance, an approach some companies are testing now is if you want to reduce your insurance,  you could be part of this program and give us a certain amount of information to tell us how you’re doing.

Jo: The insurance companies we’re working with are noticing how incentives can get people started.  The challenge is the longer term.  Because when you stop the incentive, often the behavior stops. At this point, the majority of our customers are not tying points to corporate incentives right now, the market is not really demanding that. 

Seattle24x7: One of the trends online that we’re seeing across the Web  is peer to peer socialization and recognition. Can a user’s progress be reported to close friends or associates?

Brandon:  Yes, we have that built into the app. The option is there for people to push  their data to social media, friends, and family.  At the same time we recognize there is only a percentage of our customers that would actually want that sort of pressure. Most are not that public with their challenges. Change is personal. So we have several different approaches to these challenges.

Jo: Badges, reports, and graphs can show up on the handset exclusively or an individual can share badges on Facebook.

Seattle24x7: So Brandon, you’re the CEO, and Jo, you’re the COO? Is that correct?

Jo: We’ll we’re a small startup so we wear multiple hats. Dale Bunning, CTO is a key partner and the other part of our trifecta. Presently, we’re entirely self-funded.

Brandon: Jo is also our CRO and our VP of Sales.

Seattle24x7: How have you found working together as a married couple? Are you able to separate you social life from the business?

Brandon: That’s a great question. One of the things we’ve learned going through this process is that something like 40% of startups begin with a husband or wife or various family situations. Typically this is because of good communication. I started with the business as a sole proposition, but as it was getting bigger, I needed more help. Jo has an  MBA in marketing, and it was easy to communicate with her.

The groups that make it through this sometimes become a “super team.” I consider Jo and I to be one of those super teams.

Jo: We do work a great deal more hours, we talk about business all the time, but our kids are grown so we don’t have many family responsibilities. It’s been a really positive experience, I think if anyone can do it, they should. But we did learn another really interesting thing. We’re in the process of getting ready for  a round of funding. We found out that the husband and wife teams can be a big red flag for investors. We’ve just restructured our organization a little bit, so if the need be for investors, I can easily exit. So in the long run this is Brandon’s concept and his baby. But, we do feel we make a good team.

Seattle24x7: Why do you think  a “super team” would be of concern for investors?

Brandon: This was something I had to process through before I came to the realization that we would have to do this. If you add an additional risk on top of the startup’s success, an investor might  argue, “Do we really need to invest in your marriage as well as your business?” Which is fair, we get it. It is my business and my vision, and as much as Jo is really having a tremendous impact on this company we understand we may need to make a transition.

Jo:  Of course, that’s if we go with investments. When you raise capital, investors often change the management team up a little bit. It’s no different than that. The investors might be fine with it, or they might say it’s a risk we don’t want to take. So then it comes down to the three of us saying, is the capital coming in worth that change in management?

Seattle24x7: Getting back to the Dev side, which authoring platform have you found easier, IOS or Android, as far as development goes?

Brandon: We took an approach of starting on the iPhone side,  the Cadillac, or the ‘brand setter’ at the time.  At the time, it was a stiff learning curve. It’s a much easier process now. For Android, we took a broader, hybrid approach, combining several techniques. Dale, the CFO, has been tackling the Android development. Because of the variability of devices on Android, it’s a huge challenge. It makes it tougher to control the user experience. We’re still working on that,  we also plan to add Apps for Windows and maybe Blackberry.. If Android continues strong, we may go native on that, but our experience so far has been that Android was more challenging.

Seattle24x7: Have you found with the in-app upgrades that you’re making more money with either platform? And how is your user base split? 

Jo: We’re not even charging for the Android right now. The reality is that it’s still an evolving process for us, the Apps are getting better every day, but right now we’re not charging consumers.  I would have to look at the data but I would guess around 70% of our users are Apple with 30% being Android but that’s just a rough estimate? For consumer apps, iPhone is the better moneymaker but our business model is B2B.

Seattle24x7:  Have you learned anything from the anonymous analytics you collect among users, such as about habits or New Year’s resolutions?  I suppose a perennial question is how long does the average New Year’s Resolution really last?  You’re in a unique position to analyze that.

Jo: So, there’s a couple of parts here. There are some definite patterns we can see about how long people stick with tracking their progress, but because we’re helping people to form new behaviors, almost all users will fade off somewhere between 60 and 90 days. Of course, some people keep going for years.  There is a point in time when the change has become enough of a habit that you no longer need to track it.  Behaviors also vary.  If you’re forming a new habit to drink water instead of soda,  that’s probably only going to take you a week or two to initiate that new habit.

Brandon: Right, in fact, we would not be doing our job if people had to continually use the App to maintain a single habit. There’s other habits we anticipate people moving into.

Jo: We see people take on one challenge, mark that one done, and then take on another challenge. As far as knowing what types of users use the app, it’s one of the differences with us, if you download the app you don’t have to sign in with your Facebook account, you don’t have to create an account, and we’re never capturing data that’s specific to you. Were just observing overall aggregate data with our consumer app.  Confidentiality is maintained.

Seattle24x7:  There’s been a lot of buzz about Google Glass (a new eyeglasses device) or the rumored Apple iWatch wristwatch, both connected to the wireless handset in your pocket. Do you foresee a moment when someone could be wearing computing devices and getting real world encouragement or discouragement about their habits based on location?  

Brandon:  I agree with you, I think it’s only going to become more interesting as censors and API’s continue to become more available to Apps like ours. Again, people are going to walk that line, how much information do I want to share with people? I definitely think it’s going to continue being a more creative and innovative space and we’re looking forward to being a part of it.  [24×7]

Find 2Morrowinc’s behavior-changing apps information, social community and downloads online at the following locations:

Web:  www.2morrowinc.com

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